Blue Mountain Heart to Heart, the Walla Walla nonprofit organization that operates a Syringe Services Program, will add vaccinations to its list of client services.
The organization announced it will offer vaccinations for tetanus, shingles and Hepatitis A for its syringe services users, many of whom don’t otherwise receive primary care or who are uninsured and/or homeless.
The new services for the agency, which offers advocacy, education, harm reduction, and support for clients across a spectrum of chronic conditions, including an emphasis on HIV prevention and care, are possible through a partnership with the Walla Walla County Department of Community Health.
The vaccine program starts Monday at the Kelly Place office location, said Blue Mountain Heart to Heart Executive Director Everett Maroon.
The program will start with about 50 doses of the vaccines. In the hands of the organization, the vaccines can extend the county’s reach to what has traditionally been a hard-to-access population.
“I have been a fan of bundling clinical services into our (Syringe Services Program) for years now,” Maroon said. “The more support we give people who are taking the first steps to get control back over their lives, instead of giving over their control to their drug habit, the more people we get on the path to recovery.”
Having a safe space to where those battling addiction can be vulnerable is essential to helping them visualize a new path, Maroon said.
“So having vaccinations on hand to administer is another kind way of saying, ‘You’re important, you don’t deserve to live this way, and we care about you,’” he said.
The change, too, has an overarching public health benefit under the notion that healthy individuals make a healthy community, potentially decompressing burdens on the under-resourced medical system.
“The more community health organizations can do, the more we can help repair our rural health care system,” Maroon said.
The path for this addition was paved starting several years ago, when after years of rejection and disbelief that the Walla Walla Valley even has an opioid problem, Blue Mountain Heart to Heart and its numerous partners secured funding for an outpatient clinical program for recovery.
The hope with the additional services is to later offer seasonal influenza vaccinations when supplies are available.
“I am grateful for our county partners in helping us extend the reach of critical vaccinations to this underserved population,” Maroon said in the announcement.
“Improving the health of people at risk for these communicable diseases helps all of us in the community. Our county commissioners and I know that our county health department sets a high standard for quality preventive care around infectious disease transmission.”
The 35-year-old community-based organization is based in Walla Walla and also serves Benton, Franklin, Columbia, Garfield and Asotin counties.